Decorating for any holiday season is fun but there’s nothing like getting the home and garden ready for Halloween. No other holiday combines a unique set of frightening decor and statues with costume parties, dunking for apples, and bowls of sweet candy corn. It’s also the only time of the year when a large, orange variety of squash takes center stage. That vegetable would be the pumpkin and although millions of people do love a slice or two of pumpkin pie to finish off Thanksgiving dinner, the big orange gourd is synonymous with October.
Native to North America, pumpkins have actually been an important source of food for thousands of years. They can grow to a large size, can be used in more recipes than most people realize, are even used in making some brands of beer, and the roasted seeds act as tasty, healthy snacks. Nevertheless, despite the pumpkin’s many culinary virtues, most of us use the pumpkin as a decoration. We put small pumpkins on the sills of our windows and on top of tables and mantels to act as classic fall decor, and use big ones as jack-o-lanterns.
This form of illuminated Halloween decor has been in use for a long time, and for much longer in other places than North America. Although gourds have been used as masks and art forms in many parts of the world, the first known use of the jack-o-lantern took place in Ireland and the Scottish highlands hundreds of years ago. Instead of a pumpkin, turnips and other vegetables were used to make a carving of a face, sometimes lit inside, often not, but with a similar appearance to modern jack-o-lanterns.
They also made these carvings to celebrate Samhain, a Celtic holiday that was the pre-cursor to Halloween. Although this same term is often used by modern-day practitioners of Wicca, for the Celts, Samhain was simply the name for the holiday that marked the end of the fall harvest and the start of winter. They believed that it also marked a time when the boundaries between this world and the one of spirits and fairies came close enough for spirits and magical beings to cross into our own. To appease them, treats were left outside of front doors, while jack-o-lanterns were left next to the treats to ward off bad spirits. People also dressed up in costumes to blend in with the spirits that were wandering around, and ask for treats from their neighbors.
Nowadays, we still follow several of those traditions although pumpkins have replaced turnips to act as jack-o-lanterns. This only made sense since they are easier to carve, and make a bigger impression. To carve the best jack-o-lantern, try these suggestions:
Be creative: Although a classic, scary face always works, remember that we can also carve patterns of witches in flight, the family name, or maybe even the logo of the local football team.
Project the jack-o-lantern patterns on the wall: Once the pumpkin is lit inside, turn it around so it faces the wall. Use a strong enough light and it can project an even larger pattern on the wall of the house. This never fails to impress especially when used in conjunction with more than one jack-o-lantern.
Try different colored lights: A bright white light will make the best projection but we can also make creative jack-o-lanterns with red, blue, or green lights. Try using a different light in each of three or four jack-o-lanterns for a colorful Halloween display.
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